Mesothelioma - what is it, and how is it caused?

Written by: Dr Andreas Polychronis
Published:
Edited by: Top Doctors®

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer found in the lining of the outer surface covering some of the organs in the body. It is heavily linked to asbestos exposure. It can develop in the lining of the heart, the peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen) and the testicles, but most commonly affects the lungs. Dr Andreas Polychronis, expert consultant medical oncologist, tells us more.

How mesothelioma is caused

Mesothelioma is primarily caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres. Those who have been exposed to the substance are at the highest risk of developing mesothelioma. Those at risk include people who work with asbestos in an industrial setting. Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed at a later stage in life, between the ages of 50 to 70 – this is because symptoms do not appear immediately and can take years to develop.

The symptoms of mesothelioma

Symptoms can include weight loss, a build-up of fluid in the lungs or abdomen, difficulty breathing or pain in the chest, a cough, swelling in the abdomen, and nausea, or even vomiting. More commonly in women rather than men, anaemia displays as a symptom.

These symptoms are also linked to other diseases or illnesses, so mesothelioma can often be misdiagnosed. A doctor must perform tests to confirm if the symptoms are manifestations of mesothelioma, or of another problem displaying similar symptoms. 

Diagnosis of mesothelioma

If a doctor suspects that you may have mesothelioma, there are a number of tests they can carry out. One is a biopsy, where a sample of tissue is taken from the inside of your chest or abdomen, usually along with an examination using a long, thin camera that allows the specialist to check for abnormalities. Others include an X-ray, or a CT scan, giving the doctor a detailed image they can examine. 

Treatment for mesothelioma

Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis, as it is often detected at a very late stage. This makes it difficult to treat, but there are still options available and treatment can improve the patient’s prognosis. Treatments include chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Surgery can remove the cancer and its surrounding tissue, or remove part of the covering of the lungs and part of the covering of the chest. This is often combined with other treatment that intends to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Treatment can also be prescribed that deals with the symptoms the patient is experiencing, such as fluid build-up. A procedure can be carried out to stop this, or a tube can be put in the chest to drain the fluid. Medication may also be prescribed in order to help patients deal with pain.

The only treatment that has shown improvement in patients’ survival is chemotherapy. There are biological drugs added to chemotherapy to improve the benefit of the treatment, for example, by cutting the blood supply to the tumour. New promising treatment strategies involve the manipulation of the patients’ immune system to fight cancer; this involves treatment with intravenous antibodies therapies.

By Dr Andreas Polychronis
Medical oncology

Dr Andreas Polychronis is a skilled consultant oncologist with over 20 years' experience, specialising in the treatment of lung cancer, colorectal cancer, oesophageal and stomach cancer, and gastrointestinal cancers. After completing his degree at the University of Wales College of Medicine, Dr Polychronis trained in several London hospitals including Guy's and St Thomas', St George's, and the Royal Marsden. He was a research fellow at Imperial College London, where he completed his PhD in molecular biology. Due to his knowledge in the field, he has written numerous publications, and has acted as advisor to several pharmaceutical companies regarding relevant cancer strategies. 

View Profile

Overall assessment of their patients


We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. Click ‘Enter’ to continue browsing. Enter Cookies policy